The Smart Cities Mission announced in June 2015 is perhaps one of the most ambitious urban rejuvenation missions undertaken by the government. Like any other government programs SCM too has noble objective to promote cities which provide core infrastructure, decent quality of life, clean/sustainable environment to its citizens and application of smart solutions. It is hoped that application of ‘Smart’ solutions will enable cities to use technology, information and data to improve urban infrastructure and services. The Mission is operated as Centrally Sponsored Scheme and the Central Government would give financial support to the Mission to the extent of Rs 48,000 crore over five years, that is, on an average Rs 100 crore per city per year, from FY 2015-16 to FY 2019-20. 99 cities have so far been selected for development as Smart Cities with a total proposed investment of Rs. 2,03,979 crore. Out of 100 Smart Cities, one city, Shillong was left out as elections were being held in Meghalaya.
What is worrying the most is the fact that after 3 years into the Mission the majority of the identified projects are still at the stage of preparation of detailed project report or have just been able to pass that milestone. Early signs indicate that SCM too may join the government’s long list of failed Mission and ultimately result in throwing millions of tax payers’ (who aren’t many either) money down the drain.
However, the government is putting up a brave face saying that all the cities for the Mission are not selected in go but in a staggered manner. According to the government four cities have already have Command and Control Centre and another 26 are under progress.
Despite the claims by the government ground reality is slightly frightening. It is found that many urban local bodies are facing shortage of town planners. According to the government’s own estimate there are around 5,500 urban planners in the country. And most of them are unwilling to work for Urban Local Bodies due to poor working conditions and unremunerative salary package offered by these ULBs. Though efforts are being made to increase the number of urban planners produced in the country that cannot be achieved overnight. Approximately, 650 town planners are coming out of NITs, IITs and other engineering institutions every year. Importantly, most of these young urban planner lack experience, exposure and practical knowledge to take up the responsibility from day one and lot of time is needed to train them and prepare them to take up the responsibility. Perhaps this is one of the factors the government might have missed to consider while drafting its ambitious mission. States/UTs need to re-look at their Recruitment Rules for recruiting Town and Country Planners in State Town and Country Planning Departments/Urban Development Authorities/Urban Local Bodies.
There are also reported false claims of work done under Smart Cities Mission which put a big question mark on the state of affairs with regard to work done. It also indicates poor monitoring system being pursued at the local level.
There are also complaints about poor quality of work under the Mission and in most of the cases no corrective steps are being taken to improve the quality.
Most importantly, SCM mission should not encourage the nexus between the government authorities and the contractors. Special Purpose Vehicles incorporated for the purpose of Smart City Mission should set up Smart City Advisory Forum at the City level for all Smart Cities to advise and enable collaboration among various stakeholders. Complaints should be attended/addressed immediately and the culprits should be brought to book without wasting time to send a strong message for others to note. Initial slow pace of the implementation notwithstanding, efforts should be made to cover up the lost time in the remaining period of the project.